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Love requited

KHAIRI, THE BELOVED TIGRESS· Saroj Raj Choudhury·Natraj Publishers, Dehradun· 203pp·Price Rs 350

Published: Monday 31 January 2000

-- (Credit: AKHILESH) it is difficult to maintain any objectivity in research when the subject becomes an object of love. But born naturalist Saroj Raj Choudhury, an Indian Forest Service officer and the first field director of the Simlipal National Park, accomplishes this difficult task in his book .

The book's account of the sensitive love of a tigress for her foster parents and her capacity to communicate with as much clarity as a human child is the stuff previously written of only in fiction. To prove that even a ferocious 'animal was capable of giving and taking love' has been Choudhury's prime aim in rearing Khairi without a cage or chain, and he proves his point. The Royal Bengal tiger was allowed to roam free in the writer's house for almost six years and when she died prematurely he, too, suffered a fatal heart attack in 1982.

The round-the-clock log entries of Khairi during her stay helped Choudhury in the narration as well as in scientifically analysing the multi-faceted aspects of the tigress' behaviour. From these traits, the writer has also been able to distinguish those which are genetic and innate and projectable to any tiger something invaluable for wildlife experts.

One study concerns the territorial markings of the beast. Khairi began regular markings over her den and property when she was nine months old and continued till her last day when she could barely walk having contracted rabies.

In tigers, the compulsion to demarcate is inherent as the stalking of prey, even when there is no necessity, as in Khairi's case. The uric lipids (fats with a smell resembling Basmati rice), Choudhury discovered, acted as fixers to release the pheromone gradually. It is composed of two amines, with combinations varying (in microgrammes) in each tiger which provides the distinctive odour. Just as birds can distinguish minute differences in sounds that may appear identical to us, the tiger's ultra-sharp olfactory senses detect individual marking scents. The scent flags, in the wild, are usually sprayed at nose level and on the underfoliage (to avoid been washed away by showers) and used for both redetection by itself and as a signpost for others. While researchers, not in desireable numbers, did pick up clues from Choudhury's sustained observations on tiger behaviour, the book has much to hold the reader's interest.

To communicate the wealth of his discoveries, the writer invents words, tiger language so to say, based on the sounds made by Kairi to communicate her many feelings and moods. In his 1977 preface to the book, Choudhury expressed the hope that this unique, intimate study, begun by him, should reach its conclusion "for the benefit of the tiger". A hope sadly belied in these last twenty-two years.

A book environmentalists and wildlife lovers must read. Parts of it, where the tiger loves and feels like a human, can be included in school text books. A sincere, insightful book by a true-born wildlife lover.

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